The natural man defaults to making decisions based on his sinful past and present circumstances. Jacob defaulted to both as he prepared to meet Esau after more than twenty years since he had stolen Esau's blessing and lied to his father.
Jacob sends messengers to inform Esau of his return and then panics when his messengers inform him that Esau is on his way to meet him, "So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies. And he said, 'If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape'" (Gen. 32:7-8). Jacob assumed that Esau was coming to attack him! Jacob's previous deception of Esau would certainly justify an attack.
Therefore, instead of appropriating the promises God has given to him, "Then the LORD said to Jacob, "'Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you'" (31:3), Jacob panics! The past twenty years, however, have taught him that God is faithful, so he turns to God in faith: "Then Jacob said, 'O God of my father Abraham and God of my Father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, "Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you'" (32:9). Jacob humbles himself before the LORD in prayer and seeks God's intervention, "Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, 'I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude'" (32:11-12).
Nevertheless, the next morning Jacob quickly reverts to old strategies of operation when he orchestrates an impressive string of gifts for Esau. Jacob relies upon the gifts that he has for his brother to appease him, rather than on God to protect him. God, however, has gone before Jacob, and Esau warmly embraces him.
Though Jacob needs to demonstrate his repentance toward his brother by gift giving, his gifts don"t save his neck-God does!
This scene reveals a number of helpful truths about God and faith development:
Why were Shechem's people so anxious to intermarry into Jacob's family? How would intermarriage with the people of Shechem affect God's promise to Abraham?
What does Jacob command of his sons as they prepare to return to Bethel to worship? What is so significant about Bethel?
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